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Cold Weather Survival

(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)

One of the most difficult survival situations is a cold weather scenario. Every time you venture into the cold, you are pitting yourself against the elements. With a little knowledge of the environment, proper plans, and appropriate equipment, you can overcome the elements. As you remove one or more of these factors, survival becomes increasingly difficult. Remember, winter weather is highly variable. Prepare yourself to adapt to blizzard conditions even during sunny and clear weather.

Cold is a far greater threat to survival than it appears. It decreases your ability to think and weakens your will to do anything except to get warm. Cold is an insidious enemy; as it numbs the mind and body, it subdues the will to survive.


Cold regions include arctic and subarctic areas and areas immediately adjoining them. You can classify about 48 percent of the northern hemisphere’s total landmass as a cold region due to the influence and extent of air temperatures. Ocean currents affect cold weather and cause large areas normally included in the temperate zone to fall within the cold regions during winter periods. Elevation also has a marked effect on defining cold regions.

Within the cold weather regions, you may face two types of cold weather environments; wet or dry. Knowing in which environment your area of operations falls will affect planning and execution of a cold weather operation.

Wet Cold Weather Environments

Wet cold weather conditions exist when the average temperature in a 24-hour period is -10 degrees C or above. Characteristics of this condition are freezing during the colder night hours and thawing during the day. Even though the temperatures are warmer during this condition, the terrain is usually very sloppy due to slush and mud. You must concentrate on protecting yourself from the wet ground and from freezing rain or wet snow.

 Steve's Notes: In my own experience, it is often harder to stay warm when the temperature is near freezing than when it is well below that. This is because it's easy to get wet when it is near freezing - dry cold snow tends to fall off your clothing, unlike wet snow.

Dry Cold Weather Environments

Dry cold weather conditions exist when the average temperature in a 24-hour period remains below -10 degrees C. Even though the temperatures in this condition are much lower than normal, you do not have to contend with the freezing and thawing. In these conditions, you need more layers of inner clothing to protect you from temperatures as low as -60 degrees C. Extremely hazardous conditions exist when wind and low temperature combine.

Wind Chill

Wind chill increases the hazards in cold regions. Wind chill is the effect of moving air on exposed flesh. For instance, with a 27.8-kph (15-knot) wind and a temperature of -10 degrees C, the equivalent wind chill temperature is -23 degrees C. Figure 15-1 gives the wind chill factors for various temperatures and wind speeds (bottom of the page).

Remember, even when there is no wind, you will create the equivalent wind by skiing and running.

 Steve's Notes: wind chill is an effect that only takes place when you are in the wind, so get out of it if you are cold. Also, the standard chart above measures the effect of wind on exposed skin. If you are properly dressed, the evaporative effect isn't there, so the apparent temperature isn't reduced as much by the wind.

The rest of the Cold Weather Survival pages:

Basic Principles Of Cold Weather Survival

Cold Weather Survival Hygiene

Cold Weather Medical Problems



Cold Weather Survival Shelters

Arctic Survival Foods

Fire Starting In Cold Weather

Other Cold Weather Survival Concerns

Cold Weather Survival - Water

Back to the main page of the: Wilderness Survival Guide.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Cold Weather Survival

 Wind Chill Chart